WRIGHT & VAN DEN BERGH EXIT; HUMPHRIES DEFEATS DIRK IN A THRILLER
The big-name exodus continued at the Betfred World Matchplay on Wednesday night, as former champions Peter Wright and Dimitri Van den Bergh became the latest stars to exit in Blackpool.
Two-time World Champion Wright - a winner in 2021- was beaten by Ryan Searle, while Jonny Clayton produced a magnificent display to defeat 2020 champion Van den Bergh.
Elsewhere, Luke Humphries fought back from the brink to deny Dirk van Duijvenbode 14-12 in a sensational second round tie-break, while Damon Heta dispatched an out-of-sorts Brendan Dolan.
However, Wright's exit sees the top five seeds dumped out before the quarter-final stage, with a first-time winner of the Phil Taylor Trophy now guaranteed on Sunday.
Searle produced the performance of the first round to dispatch Dutch legend Raymond van Barneveld on Monday, and he claimed another major scalp in the shape of Wright to break new ground in Blackpool.
The Somerset star struck the first blow with a 12-dart break to move 4-2 ahead, and a clinical 107 checkout in leg 12 saw him establish a four-leg buffer.
Searle displayed signs of fallibility by spurning seven darts for a 9-4 lead, although he regained his poise in the latter stages, taking out a 112 checkout on tops to wrap up a hard-fought 11-8 success.
"It's a big moment in my career," admitted Searle, who averaged 95 and landed six 180s to celebrate his first televised win over Wright.
"I had that real buzz about me against Raymond. I felt like I played really well. I played well in patches tonight, but I managed to knuckle down and get through the game, which is a positive.
"If I can have that same focus I had on Monday, there's no reason why I can't go all the way, and I'm looking forward to the game against Jonny now."
Clayton produced a finishing masterclass in his 11-6 success against Belgian number one Van den Bergh, converting three brilliant ton-plus finishes to triumph with an average of almost 102.
The Welshman followed up an 11-dart break in leg three with a 170 checkout to storm into a 3-1 lead, although Van den Bergh rallied to level at four apiece, featuring a 125 finish on tops in leg seven.
However, Clayton regained the initiative with a run of four straight legs to stretch his lead to 8-4, fending off the Belgian's fightback with terrific 156 and 126 combinations in the latter stages.
"I knew I had to play well tonight, and thankfully I did," reflected Clayton, who dedicated his latest win to his ill father.
"It's been very difficult, but I'm here to do a job, and I'm trying my best to do it, so today was a good day.
"It really feels good to beat a player of Dimitri's calibre, and I'm going to try and keep the Welsh flag flying. I would love to win the World Matchplay. That trophy looks so good!"
The match of the night saw Humphries recover from 10-7 down to deny Van Duijvenbode, surviving a match dart at double 16 to preserve his hopes of lifting a first senior televised title.
Van Duijvenbode capitalised on Humphries' early struggles on the outer ring to fashion out an 8-5 lead, converting 132 and 147 checkouts to move to the cusp of a place in the last eight.
Humphries landed a 120 checkout on tops and fired in an 11-darter to reduce the deficit to 9-7, only for Van Duijvenbode to reply with a magnificent 10-dart hold to edge closer to victory.
The drama continued as Humphries produced a series of skin-saving finishes to restore parity at ten apiece, reeling off three legs without reply and surviving a match dart in leg 20.
The Dutchman responded with a brilliant 170 checkout to regain the lead, but after following up a 12-dart hold with a clutch 88 kill, Humphries pinned double 19 to complete the comeback.
"I'm so proud of myself there," revealed world number six Humphries, the highest-ranked player left in the tournament.
"I struggled throughout that game. I felt really flat, but I dug deep, and that's what champions do.
"I'm not saying I am a champion, but sometimes you have to get through these really tough games when you're not at your best, and I'm hoping I will perform a lot better on Friday."
Elsewhere, Heta breezed through to a maiden Blackpool quarter-final with a thumping 11-1 win against Dolan, who had dumped out reigning champion Michael van Gerwen in round one.
Heta - who treated the crowd to another Ashes-themed walk-on - punished a doubling disaster from Dolan to win the opening five legs, as the Northern Irishman missed his first ten darts at double.
Dolan eventually opened his account in leg six, but Heta replied with a magnificent 150 checkout to restore his five-leg cushion, before landing 91, 88 and 121 finishes to complete the rout.
"Brendan didn't turn up tonight. He deserved more than that," claimed Heta, who is through to his first individual televised quarter-final since March 2022.
"I was comfortable, things went my way. You can only play who is in front of you, and I hope the crowd enjoyed the entertainment and the banter, because they make this tournament."
The Betfred World Matchplay quarter-finals begin on Thursday night, with two-time semi-finalist Daryl Gurney up against former Masters champion Joe Cullen in the evening's opener.
Nathan Aspinall then continues his challenge against his stablemate Chris Dobey, who dumped out world number one Michael Smith in Tuesday's last 16.
|91.90||3||8/22 ||Wright ||8:11||Searle||95.22||6||11/34|
|94.67||8||14/35 ||Humphries ||14:12||v. Duijvenbode||93.04||9||12/28|